SO let’s talk about tightness…What it means…Why it happens…What you can do about it…Hint? It doesn’t always mean you need to stretch!
Tightness can sometimes mean your body is trying to protect that area where you feel tight. So what it does, is it tries to protect that part of your body by creating a tight sensation so you don’t move it as much. Bodies like to feel safe and strong, so sometimes your body is asking you to get stronger in that part of the body that is feeling tight. When it lacks strength it perceives movement as potentially dangerous because there’s an instability or weakness there, so that’s where the tightness comes in.
So next time you’re tight in your hips, your legs, or your shoulders…try strengthening that area rather than stretching it and see what happens.
Here’s a quick story about an experiment I did last week with tightness. It’s a great example of how tightness isn’t always fixed by stretching:
My hip has a labral tear (you have labrums in your shoulders and your hips – the labrum basically holds your bone in the socket). I’ve rehabbed it and it’s pretty much fine, but like any old injury it can act up every once in a while. Something happened the other day (if I’m being honest, I’m not actually quite sure what) where every muscle around that hip tightened up and almost felt like it was spasming on and off for 2 days. In the past I may have totally freaked out I had somehow done more damage to my hip, or I would have done a thousand pigeon poses to try to get those muscles to relax. Since learning from physical therapists for the last 4 years, I knew that none of those reactions were actually going to help. SO instead of freaking out that I had hurt it further, I went back to what I know:
💪There is tissue damage in that hip
💪My body’s joints (note: this does not apply to everyone) are generally unstable and really need extra feedback from weightlifting for strength and stability, which I haven’t been doing
💪When there is something wrong your body tightens its muscles to protect the area
What does all this mean? Instead of doing stretches because my hip is tight, I decided to lift weights instead. “But Kate!” you might say…”Lifting weights TIGHTENS muscles! 😱” NOT ALWAYS. For my particular body, it craves that strength and stability around its joints.
I’m more naturally flexible and because of my labral tear in that hip, the joint is even more unstable (remember: your labrum kind of holds your leg bone in the hip). Which actually means my muscles are going to TIGHTEN in an attempt to PROTECT that area and give it a sense of stability and security through tightness, rather than true stability. SO if I can give my body REAL, STRONG, stability, it will send a signal to my brain that that area is protected, and that tightness actually lessens up! I actually may become MORE flexible because my body now feels like it’s safe to move into that particular shape.
So instead of doing a thousand pigeon poses like I might have done 5 years ago, I picked up a barbell and deadlifted. And guess what…it worked! Pain almost immediately subsided. No pain at night. Pain was gone in the morning, and has been totally fine since.
So…how does this apply to you and your yoga practice? This is why it’s important to learn HOW to engage your muscles, and not just assume that just because your knee is bent, all the right muscles are working and engaging around a joint. As your yoga instructor, if my cues can get you to turn on the muscles around your hip, you might actually be able to move further into a pose, that pose might start to feel better, and you may even find your body relaxes and you get calmer.
Make sense? Awesome. No? PLEASE reach out with questions. This is such a cool topic and one I’m super passionate about helping you understand! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Till next time,
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post and want more yoga tips to help you build a stronger, more flexible and dependable body, join my mailing list where I send out weekly tips like this. You can sign up here. Please also feel free to share this with anyone who you think might benefit from these tips!